x-ray of spinal chord and discs

Understanding Spine Basics: The Vertebrae, Discs and the Spinal Cord

Dealing with back pain is torture, but the more you know about spine basics, such as the vertebrae, discs and the spinal cord, the better you will understand your pain. Although it won’t lessen it, it can help you avoid making the situation worse.

A lot of strain is put on your spine; after all, it is what holds up the heads, shoulders, and the entire body. It is the frame that supports your body and allows you to twist and bend. It also acts to protect your spinal cord by encasing it.

Understanding Spine Basics: The Vertebrae, Discs and the Spinal Cord

 To get a better understanding of your spine, let’s break down the components that hold it together.

Spine Basics – The Vertebrae

You have probably heard of “vertebrae”, which is the plural of vertebra, but do you have a firm understanding of what they are?

The vertebrae are the 33 individual interlinked bones that form your spinal column. They are broken down into five main groups that depend on where they are located on the backbone.

  • The base of your skull has 7 cervical vertebrae
  • 12 thoracic vertebrae in your upper back
  • 5 lumbar vertebrae in your lower back, below the curve.
  • Below your lower back are 5 vertebrae that are fused together to form the sacrum, which is part of your pelvis.
  • The last 4 vertebrae are fused together to make your tailbone.

The vertebrae in each region have unique features that help them execute their main functions.

Spine Basics – Discs                  

 Between each vertebra is what is medically called intervertebral discs, but are usually shorted to “discs”. The discs in your back connect each vertebra to the next. They’re flat and round with a gel-like center and are about a half an inch thick.

Discs are made of two components:

  • Nucleus pulposus: Is similar to jelly, and comprises the center of your disk
  • Annulus fibrosus: The flexible outer-ring of the disk, which consists of several layers similar to elastic bands and resembles the cross-section of an onion.

Discs are located in front of your spine, and are what give the torso the ability to move forward, backward, side to side, and rotate. They are also responsible for absorbing shock and pressure during activities such as running, walking and even sitting.

Spine Basics – The Spinal Cord

 Your spinal cord goes from your skull down to your lower back and goes through the middle section of each vertebra. Nerves flow from your spinal cord to every muscle in your body, via openings in your vertebrae (foramen), and carry messages between your brain and muscles. Because of this anatomical set-up, injury or damage to your spinal cord can result in serious problems in other areas of your body including your limbs, muscles, skin, and organs. Since your spinal cord is protected by vertebrae, disks, ligaments, and muscles, you also have to be careful when you injure these areas of your back.

 Now you know the basics of your spine, its components, and also how they work together. If you’re dealing with back pain and want to know how our Austin pain doctors at the Capitol Pain Institute can help you, contact us by e-mail at [email protected] or call us at (512) 467-7246.

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